Fake goods pose real threat

November 25, 2016 GMT

HARLINGEN — Criminal organizations laundering money with counterfeit goods have been investing in cosmetics, contact lenses and medicine, putting consumers at risk and making it harder for agents fighting transnational piracy.

Thousands of shoppers from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border flock to the Rio Grande Valley every year during Black Friday looking to kick-start their holiday gift shopping and save some money.

This frenzied search for the best deals can make shoppers vulnerable to offers that are too good to be true, said Angie M. Salazar, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Harlingen.

“One of the main reasons why we focus on intellectual property rights is because it has a huge economic impact, but also because we want to protect the consumer, especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up,” Salazar said.

“What we are seeing, especially here in the Valley, are a lot of products that people are putting on their skin, on their eyes, and could potentially harm them, like makeup and medicine,” she added.

Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized about 100,000 pairs of counterfeit, contact lenses responsible for causing eye infections, conjunctivitis and impaired vision, according to an October news release.

Salazar said many of these items are being sold online or by unlicensed vendors nationwide.

“In the Rio Grande Valley, we’ve seen these items being sold at flea markets by independent vendors, various social media websites and apps,” Salazar said. “Nationwide, we’ve seen these items sold by street vendors.”

A table full of counterfeit items at HSI’s Harlingen office this week included Kylie and M.A.C. brand cosmetics, DVDs, and Cowboys football jerseys. Some of the cosmetics tested positive for lead and other carcinogenic chemicals, Salazar said.

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